Thursday, November 22, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 13: Women of Flowers 3 - Kathleen McArthur (1915-2000)

In December 1996 James Cook University awarded one of its very first honorary doctorates to 81-year-old Kathleen McArthur, wildflower artist, environmental educator and activist. After receiving her degree of Doctor of Educational Studies she was invited to present the occasional address. A reproduction of one of her paintings illustrated the programme.

Kathleen’s love of Australian flora, her artistic gifts and forthright nature had for decades made her a significant figure in environmental education and advocacy. At home on the Sunshine Coast the sale of her paintings, and of home-grown native plants, brought funds for her conservation campaigns, and raised awareness of the beauty and fragility of our wildflowers. Despite being a sometimes controversial figure locally, in 2002 the Sunshine Coast named her their “Citizen of the Century”.
In 1962 Kathleen became one of the founders of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland and increased her activism. She had an advanced ecological understanding and a particular love for the flower-rich wallum country of the south-east. The beautiful Cooloola National Park owes its existence to her efforts.
Pages 22 - 23 (Wallum Banksia) from Looking at Australian Wildflowers by Kathleen McArthur
Kathleen regarded her book Queensland Wildflowers: a selection (1960) as the first popular book on the subject, hoping it would “bridge the gap between scientist and public” and generate the love and recognition that would prompt a more widespread desire to protect. She widened her scope with Looking at Australian Wildflowers (1986) which beautifully displays the delicacy of her art and the liveliness of her writing. In the Foreword her friend, Judith Wright, speaks of the “delighted immediacy of Kathleen’s response to and interaction with the flowers she loves”. Both books are held in the Shaw Collection and the School of Education holds a selection of her prints.
Plate VII (Hibiscus diversifolius) from Queensland Wildflowers by Kathleen McArthur

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